Thursday, 14 February 2019

A little squid sheds light on evolution with bacteria


Researchers have sequenced the genome of a little squid to identify unique evolutionary footprints in symbiotic organs, yielding clues about how organs that house bacteria are especially suited for this partnership.

In a new study, an international team of researchers, led by UConn associate professor of molecular and cell biology Spencer Nyholm, sequenced the genome of this little squid to identify unique evolutionary footprints in symbiotic organs, yielding clues about how organs that house bacteria are especially suited for this partnership.

The first squid genome was sequenced by Nyholm, along with Jamie Foster of the University of Florida, Oleg Simakov of the University of Vienna, and Mahdi Belcaid of the University of Hawaii. The team found several surprises, for instance, that the Hawaiian bobtail squid's genome is 1.5 times the size of the human genome.

By comparing the genome of E. scolopes to its cousin, the octopus, the researchers show that the common ancestor of both the octopus and the Hawaiian bobtail squid went through a major genetic makeover, reorganizing and increasing the genome size. This "upgrade" likely gave the cephalopods opportunities for increased complexity, including new organs like the ones that house bacteria.

Many animals have organs that house bacteria. The human gut houses trillions of bacteria that play important roles in digestion, immune function, and overall health. Understanding how these relationships are maintained by identifying genes that help animals cooperate with bacteria lays the groundwork for furthering knowledge of the human body. The Hawaiian bobtail squid is an excellent model for identifying these genes because of its symbiotic relationships with beneficial microbes, and its use by a number of scientists to study communication between bacteria and animals.

The Hawaiian bobtail squid has two different symbiotic organs, and researchers were able to show that each of these took different paths in their evolution. This particular species of squid has a light organ that harbors a light-producing, or bioluminescent, bacterium that enables the squid to cloak itself from predators. At some point in the past, a major "duplication event" occurred that led to repeat copies of genes that normally exist in the eye. These genes allowed the squid to manipulate the light generated by the bacteria.


Another finding was that in the accessory nidamental gland, a female reproductive organ, there was an enrichment of genes that are "orphan genes" or genes that have only been found in the bobtail squid and not in other organisms.

See:

Mahdi Belcaid el al. Symbiotic organs shaped by distinct modes of genome evolution in cephalopods. PNAS, 2019 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1817322116

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology

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